Coach Hughes: Training for Cycling Brevets, pt.2
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Intelligent Cycling Training—Training

Training for Cycling Brevets, pt. 2
Building Power and Peaking

Ride Hard, Ride Specifically, Ride Less.

by Coach John Hughes
© Randonners USA 2011, Reprinted with permission.

John Hughes is the author of Anti-Aging: 12 Ways to You Can Slow the Aging Process and of the book Distance Cycling. He has written 40 articles on training, nutrition, psychology and medical issues for He is a veteran of Paris-Brest-Paris ’79, ’87, ’91, ’95, ’99, Boston-Montreal-Boston ’92 (course record), Rocky Mountain 1200 ’04, Furnace Creek 508 ’89 (course record) and ’93 (first place) and the Race Across America ’96. More about Coach Hughes.

[  Training for Cycling Brevets:   Pt. 1 Base Endurance Training   |  Pt. 2 Building Power and Peaking  ]

Ride hard, ride specifically, ride less—in different phases!

Overload —> Recovery —> Adaptation

To continue to improve you need to continue to do more than you have before. Just quit your job, get a divorce and go for it! Not ready for that? Then periodically change the type of overload, not the quantity of overload. That’s why we divide effective training into different phases with different goals and different workouts:

Base Increasing endurance
Build Riding hard to build power
Peaking Training specifically for your event
Taper Training specifically for your event

In part one of this article I described Base training. During the Base phase you rode at a moderate endurance pace, the classic conversational pace and completed a series of brevets. Whether you are working on the P-12 or R-12 program, completing the Super Randonneur series, or preparing for a 1200, through these moderate rides you increased your endurance by training your body to:

  • metabolize more fat for energy, thus sparing glycogen, which your body can store only limited amounts, and
  • ride more economically, i.e., go farther or faster for the same amount of energy.

Both within a given week and over the arc of the season “Stress + rest = success.” You can’t get any fitter right before your key event, that’s where the rest comes in, so that you have a successful event. To accomplish that, start by planning the timing and duration of each phase by working backward from your event including recovery weeks. Let’s assume that you are riding a 1200 km starting mid-August. Depending on when you finish your 600 km your phases might look like:

  Plan A Plan B Plan C
Phase Duration
15 weeks
12 weeks
10 weeks
Taper 2 weeks 3 weeks 3 weeks
Peaking 5 weeks 4 weeks 3 weeks
Break 1 week 1 week none
Build 6 weeks 3 weeks 3 weeks
Break 1 week 1 week 1 week
Base Completed 600 km Completed 600 km Completed 600 km

If you are an experienced randonneur, then a two-week taper is probably sufficient. If this is your first 1200 then a three-week taper is better. Depending on your specific needs you can adjust the length of the Build and Peaking phases. Since you want to peak, not burn out physically or mentally, take a very easy recovery week after your 600 km and before Build phase and again between the Build and Peaking phases. During your easy weeks just a few hours of activity, preferably off the bike, is sufficient. Now let’s look at the phases.

In the Build phase you increase your power while maintaining your endurance. You can do this most effectively by alternating two different types of training weeks:

Week A (Power):

  • 2 hard rides up to 90 minutes each to build power
  • 1 moderate endurance ride up to 100 km
  • 2 active recovery rides

Week B (Endurance):

  • 1 hard ride up to 90 minutes
  • 1 brisk ride about as long
  • 1 long endurance ride of to 200 km or so
  • 2 active recovery rides

In the last article I described intensity in terms of perceived exertion:

  1. Digestion pace: The pace at which you ride or walk after a large meal.
  2. Conversation pace: Enjoying the scenery and talking about it with friends.
  3. Headwind and climbing pace: Riding a bit faster. If you can whistle you aren’t going hard enough; if you can’t talk at all you’re going too hard.
  4. Sub-barf pace: Riding just below the level where you lose it.

The hard rides are the key workouts each week and include:

  1. 15 - 20 minutes of warm-up at the conversation and headwind pace
  2. 30 - 60 minutes of mixing hard (sub-barf) and recovery (conversational) riding
  3. 10 - 15 minutes of cool-down at the digestion pace.

For the middle of the ride you can do structured intervals or just hammer the hills—both work, just get your heart rate up there! Ride the brisk ride every other week at your headwind pace and the long rides at your conversation pace. For more on training at different levels of intensity including using a heart rate monitor, see my eArticle on listed at the end of this article. If you are riding the P-12 or R-12 series or preparing for a 600 km later in the season you can use the same pattern of alternating weeks with appropriately shorter rides.

During the Peaking phase you train as specifically as possible for your event while maintaining endurance and power. From your brevet series you have the endurance to finish a 1200 km, so you don’t need long rides. A weekend ride of up to 200 to 300 km is plenty during this phase. Each week during this key ride work specifically on one aspect of your upcoming 1200 km, for example:

  • Mentally rehearse the event. On a 120 km ride imagine that every 10 km you’ve covered 100 km of the event. Where will you be? What time of day or night? How will you feel?
  • Practice eating enough every hour and drinking enough to satisfy your thirst. Inadequate nutrition is probably the biggest showstopper rather than inadequate training! For more see my eArticle on Nutrition.
  • Starting the 1200 km at night? Start a 300 km at the same time and ride into the next day.
  • Practice riding at your sustainable pace.
  • Planning sleep breaks? Ride 150 km until about the time you plan a sleep break.
  • Practice stopping, taking a short sleep break, and getting going again. Then ride another 150 km.
  • Practice minimizing off-the-bike time so that you will have enough time for sleep breaks.
  • Ride in similar terrain, which could be endless rolling hills or sustained climbs. If necessary, use the wind to simulate climbing.
  • Hope for good weather but expect wind, rain and cold and seize opportunities to train in unfavorable conditions.

In addition to the event simulation ride each week, include one hard ride of up to 90 minutes, a brisk ride of similar duration at your headwind pace and a couple of easy recovery rides. You can use the same types of simulation rides to prepare for other important brevets later in the year.

“If I don’t ride before the event I’ll lose my fitness, ” clients often tell me. “You’re going to ride hard, just not a lot,” I respond. You build your endurance over months of training and won’t lose it during just a few weeks. Power is more ephemeral so the taper includes hard riding each week, although the volume decreases.

The three-week taper includes two weeks plus the event week; the two-week taper includes one week plus the event week. During the taper reduce the duration of each of your rides from the last peaking week so that in the seven days before your event you do a long ride of up to 100 km, a short brisk ride and a couple of recovery rides.

Following this training outline should bring you to your event with plenty of endurance to finish it, the power to overcome hills and/or wind and maintain speed and the experience to deal with the specific situations that you will encounter. Remember: Ride hard during the Build phase. Ride specifically while Peaking. Ride less during the Taper. Throughout your training make sure you get enough recovery so that you are enthusiastic about riding and having fun. En route!

More Information
I have written a number of pieces directly relevant to randonneurs, all available from RoadBikeRider

  • Endurance Training and Riding — The three article bundle covers training, nutrition and the skills for finish rides of 100km and longer. 48 pages available for just $13.50 (a 10% savings) from
    1. Brevets — The eArticle on how to train for 200 km to 1200 km and longer brevets. 16 pages for just $4.99 from
    2. Nutrition — What to eat and drink on rides of 100 km and longer. 16 pages for just $4.99 from
    3. Riding the Long Ride — What are the key final preparations for a ride of 100 km or longer, how to complete them and then how to manage every aspect of the ride. 16 pages for just $4.99 from
  • Butt, Hands, Feet — How to prevent and treat pain in cycling’s pressure points. 12 pages for just $4.99 from
  • Intensity — Using Rate of Perceived Exertion, a Heart Rate Monitor or Power Meter to Maximize Training Effectiveness. 41 pages eArticle for just $4.99 from
  • Mastering the Mental — How to prepare for the inevitable mental challenges and how to deal with them on a ride of 100 km or longer. 17 pages for just $4.99 from
  • Showstoppers — What are all the factors other than training that stop you from completing a ride? What can you do to prevent a DNF. 65 pages for just $14.95 from
  • Other articles by Coach Hughes from